Not Alone

I’ve noticed that when we – all people – experience heartache, illness, tragedy, loss – our tendency is to feel like no one gets it. Like we’re the only ones who have experienced this. We retreat inside ourselves and, at times, nurse the hurt like we’re protecting it somehow.

What’s true is this – there is no heartache or pain or loss that hasn’t happened before. Life on planet earth is not without these things. More money can’t fix them or erase them. No drug can make them disappear. No other person has all the answers.

But there is hope – and when we come to that realization, healing and life begin. “Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean He no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?” (Romans 8:35 NLT)

I often wonder how those struck by the tragedies of war (think Ukraine currently or our own soldiers, home without limbs and terrorized by PTSD) navigate life without Jesus. As someone survives the middle of the night storm but their home is in shambles, how do they pick up the pieces?

It’s foreign to me because I’m on this side of salvation. This side of salvation has a Navigator for life, someone who is intimately involved in our broken pieces. “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.” (Romans 8:38 NLT)

There’s a great song by Zach Williams and Dolly Parton (see music video below) that summarizes the realization believers in Jesus come to: no matter what, Jesus is right here with us. We are never alone. Even when we don’t see it or can’t feel it.

In those inevitable times when life takes a turn we wish it hadn’t, there is no need to retreat, no need to nurse the hurt. There is freedom that is only found in the presence of the Lord. “No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39 NLT)

We will never walk this earth alone – though everyone desserts us – still a constant Companion holds us close. Our testimony to this is what a hurting world needs. We can’t fix the brokenness; we might not even know how to empathize. But we can point to the God who does. Speak His Name – there is something about that Name – it moves heaven earth to capture our hearts and heal our wounds.

More GOOD News

Ever ask this: ‘do you want the good news first or the bad news’? Then there’s always the line: ‘I saved the best news for last’. Pretty much our days are like that – good mixed with the bad, and some that are the best!

This week is called Holy week. During the last week of Jesus’ life on earth the disciples were part of some really good news days…and some really bad news days. There was what’s called the Triumphal Entry, where, as Jesus entered Jerusalem, the hearts of the people were moved to proclaim Him King. They greeted Him shouting “Hosanna” – literally “Save us!” “The crowds that went ahead of Him and those that followed shouted…’Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ “ (Matthew 21:9 NIV)

But there were hardened hearts as well, blind hearts, arrogant hearts. All this celebrating Jesus moved their hearts to hatred and evil. Their plotting to rid themselves of the nuisance of a ‘Messiah’ was well underway.

As the week progressed, good news and bad news mingled. It also happened to be the week that led to the Jewish celebration of Passover, many people were coming and going and preparing.

This brings us to Maundy Thursday as it’s called on the church calendar. We now know it as the Last Supper. The one where Jesus would plainly tell His disciples His time to shed His blood for them, for us, had come. The one where they just didn’t get it. The one where betrayal would end the day. “The traitor, Judas, had given them a prearranged signal: ‘You will know which one to arrest when I greet him with a kiss.’ “ (Matthew 26:48 NLT)

Friday was a totally bad news day. Everything that could go wrong did. Jesus was under arrest, He was beaten and mocked, and ultimately crucified.

Saturday does not have a name. A while back I heard it called Silent Saturday. And it was. For the disciples and all who followed Jesus there was fear, uncertainty, and hiding – unbelief that the man they knew to be God’s own Son, had been brutally killed. Now what?

God knows us well and He saved the best news til last. Because Sunday did come, Jesus did not remain in the grave. He spoke and ate and rejoiced with those who knew Him for the next forty days. And indeed, those were all good news days. For from that point on, death was no longer to be feared – evil had been conquered – and eternal life with Jesus was available to all who would call Him Savior!

This is Easter – this is Resurrection Sunday – this is what it is all about. May our joy be contagious every day of the year as we share the GOOD News knowing it far out shadows any and all bad news days. “…suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightening stood beside them…’Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, He has risen!’ “ (Luke 24:4b, 5b, 6 NIV)

Why the Celebration?

Resurrection Sunday is gaining momentum as the title for celebrating Jesus raising from the dead. It is more appropriate and sends the message of what the day is all about. Easter brings visions of colored eggs, bunnies, chicks, spring, etc. Truly, what does any of that have to do with the biggest miracle of all time?

I tend to think in terms of what we’re teaching children. Mine are grown, now with six grands, I feel more sensitive to the messages they hear.

When my three were little, Santa was only talked of in terms of something fun, not something real. My thought was: if I lie about a man who delivers gifts, why would they believe me about Jesus who they can’t see with their physical eyes. Children are concrete thinkers – the mixed messages of the world can leave them confused and untrusting. “Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts.(1John 5:21 NLT)

It comes down to this: do we enjoy celebrating Easter because of the fun – or because of the Savior?

We tend to corrupt a lot of good things – Christmas was only about trees and gifts in the last couple centuries. Now the shopping and tunes start in September, maximizing the profits, forgetting the Savior as a babe. “And you will recognize Him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12 NLT) Hmm, the sacred lost in the hustle.

Instead of pastel colors and bunny stories, maybe Easter can be all about the fact that Jesus died, rose from the grave, and now we get to live forever. I want my grandsons to know the Person and desire to follow Him – not remember baskets and candy.

I hunt eggs with one of my little guys at random times throughout the year for the fun of the hunt. I tell him plainly, when Resurrection Sunday nears, that the celebration is all about Jesus. It’s great to have fun, but if we’re setting aside a day because of Messiah, Christ, Savior – let’s make it plain we value how we celebrate.

“And we know that the Son of God has come, and He has given us understanding so that we can know the true God. And now we live in fellowship with the true God because we live in fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ. He is the only true God, and He is eternal life.” (1John 5:20 NLT)

Finished

I’m either hot or cold when it comes to completing a project. When it goes well, I tend to go all in and work at it til it’s done. But if there are issues, if it’s not turning out right, if it’s taking too long – well, let’s just say I give up easily.

One of my grandsons is similar. We’ll get started on an art project, and since his little hands aren’t adept at making things look like he envisions them, he’s done before all the paints are out.

Thankfully, this isn’t the way God approaches things. “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” (Philippians 1:6 NLT)

That’s good news, because you and I are needy projects – and there’s much to be done. Just when I get comfortable in my time spent reading the Bible, living better for Jesus, giving Him praise, I do something stupid.

That must be why we have all the history and lives told to us in the Bible. Recorded history from beginning until Jesus was crucified. People were no different, no more innocent, no less sinful. David was God’s chosen king given a great kingdom, admired by all. Then it happened, roaming eyes led to lies and murder.

David wasn’t the only one. The Bible reads like today’s headlines. Wars, famines, racial tension, and on and on. Seems like no one gets it right. But there was One.

Only One. Jesus, Messiah, the Christ. For all the wrongs past and future – He made a way. Even assured us that the Holy Spirit who resides in us will help us avoid the stupids (when we let Him). “Then Christ will make His home in your hearts as you trust in Him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.” (Ephesians 3:17 NLT)

Thankfully, God doesn’t give up like we do. He doesn’t say this one is taking too long, or this one keeps messing up. He says: this one, she has the light of my Son in her; she has a ways to go, but I will go with her. Until then the Savior intercedes for us and covers over all our imperfections. Finished – when He says we are, and not a moment before.

Power

All the world is focused on Ukraine. What’s next? How long? Why?

“Leaders” of nations play power games to see who has what territory, control of their citizens, and the next photo op. All under the illusion that they have power. As though they are little gods. As though God does not exist.

Here’s the deal: nothing happens without God. He is sovereign and He is in all the details of life. Yes, sinful man will pursue his selfish ways and there will be sorrow. But do not doubt that God has purpose in all of man’s affairs – and His purpose is never thwarted. And for those who love Him and claim His Son Jesus as Savior, He will work out all things for our good. Even when…it seems so hard.

This is easy for me to say sitting thousands of miles away from destruction. The importance of saying it isn’t diminished by current ease. In fact, it is during the ease that we must prepare ourselves for times of war, or famine, or unrest in the streets, or disease, or heartache.

If we wait as a nation or as an individual until trouble is upon us, how then do we weather the hard realities, pain, and misery? “For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was His plan from before the beginning of time—to show us His grace through Christ Jesus.” (2Timothy 1:9 NLT)

God, throughout time, and Jesus when on earth, did not ignore the realities of what mankind has chosen in rejection of Him. This choice, which we’ve all made, results in what the world is experiencing. World leaders will not fix it, billionaires cannot control it, and climate change isn’t the cause of it.

But joy and peace can be found in the midst of it all. In the bomb shelter, prison, hospital ward, loneliness. I learned something today that I hadn’t realized before. Longing for heaven and an end to all the ugliness isn’t wrong, but if that’s my focus I’m forgetting why Jesus came to earth in the first place.

What is it about heaven we think we want? Lots of answers to that, but unless our conclusion is Jesus, we answer incorrectly. Jesus came so that we could have Him, He is what makes heaven more than we can ask or imagine. By giving us His Holy Spirit now, all of that peace, joy, rest is already ours. Pastor Jimmy Rollins reminds us: “Don’t allow what you’re looking at to determine what you see.” What we must keep our eyes on is our Prince of Peace, our true Leader, who is all powerful and whose kingdom has no end. “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.’ “ (Matthew 28:18 NIV)

I Know You

Do you know me? We may know the grocery store clerk from seeing her weekly, but we know little about her. We know our children’s spouses, but we don’t live with them, so we know them only to a certain extent. A ‘best friend’ is known deeply through much time shared, but still not an intimate knowing. Even with a spouse, with all the years of closeness and trust, there are still gaps in knowing each other.

God wants us to know Him. We can’t see or touch or hear Him with our physical bodies. How then can we know Him? “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is Himself God and is at the Father’s side, has made Him known.” (1John 5:20 ESV)

More than knowing others, however, is the desire that we are known – wanted, loved, accepted. When my mother died, I felt like the only one who had always known me was gone. Truth is, Jesus knew me even before her.

There’s a lot we might prefer others not know. No one is perfect. Not in light of a perfect God. We should be in awe that He knows all our sins and failures yet still loves us.

What kind of love is this? One so deep, all-encompassing that in our surrender to and acceptance of His Son He will wipe our slate clean?

This love is a fully known kind of love. A knows it all and still says ‘You are mine and I am delighted’ kind of love. “Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known.” (1Corinthians 13:12b CSB)

That must be why we call it amazing grace, amazing love. Who, but the Father, would offer such redemption? Everything about us is laid bare before God. He cleanses us in the blood of His Son and calls us beloved.

Jesus says to those who believe: ‘I know you’ – and in the hearing, all our anxiousness fades; for that knowing is a soul knowing and a promise of forever in paradise. As the thief on the cross was known and promised the same: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with Me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43b CSB)

Modeling

Funny how we all ‘see’ things differently – especially those under five. Grown-ups see from experience. Little ones, with a mere few years, tend to be more literal and view life and circumstances only from a concrete view.

Recently cousins 2, 3, and 5 years old spent some time together. Oldest does get that hitting hurts – youngest no clue that crashing his car into his cousin brings tears. But what I’ve observed is: a lot is expected the older you get – but not a lot of grace is given when considering five years doesn’t add up to a whole lot of experience.

I’ve also observed that even when we do get bigger, grace given to another is often a foreign concept. We seem to expect everyone to act and think like we do. And when they don’t, they’re wrong – we’re right. Yet only one person has ever lived who has the right to expect we should act and think like they do. And Jesus was the biggest grace-giver of all. “From His fullness we have all received grace upon grace.” (John 1:16 BSB)

Perhaps grace is a concept so lost today, it is why we find ourselves with all the heartaches and woes going on in our world. Maybe it should be revived. Perhaps we should begin to model it for our children, spouses, friends, co-workers, those who cut us off driving, those who say bad things about us, those who wrong us.

Why not? Isn’t that what Jesus did? When mocked, beaten, crucified: “Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ ” (Luke 22:34a NIV)

Hmm, a whole lot easier said than done. Time to admit we all have a long way to go with living out grace. Yes, we are a life-long work in progress. But progress pleases God. He’s given us ultimate grace: complete forgiveness for every shortcoming, every sinful act.

Here’s why God sent Messiah to us: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” (John 3:17 CSB) During His three years of ministry more souls were saved by grace than by any miracle witnessed. And in the centuries since, every follower is amazed by grace, for we all know what our hearts are capable of.

“God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.” (Ephesians 2:8 NLT) If we model it for all to see, perhaps there will be a little less strife in our days and a few more who want to know Christ.

Be Quiet

Quiet, very few days are quiet around here (especially lately with some major tree trimming). The sky is clear blue and a soft breeze tickles limbs with green shoots appearing. In Florida, spring is underway.

A theme I find in various places throughout the Bible is: quiet. God calling the prophets to ‘listen or hear’, David in the sanctuary communing with God, Jesus rising early before the noise of the day to talk with the Father.

When you have children in the house, quiet is seldom found. When rushing off to work is how the days tumble into each other, quiet is often illusive. Still, the example of the Savior: “Very early the next morning before daylight, Jesus got up and went to a place where He could be alone and pray.” (Mark 1:35 CEV)

I’m able to do that these days – early, just before dawn. I wasn’t always able to – and sometimes didn’t want to leave the comfort of a few more minutes of sleep. But if we’re truthful, all of us from the mom with three under the age of four, to those who early commute to work – can find five minutes at some point to shut the door and sit with God.

At one point during Jesus’ ministry on earth, He gathered His disciples and sent them out in twos to preach the good news and to bring healing to many. When they returned and told Him all they had been able to accomplish, more and more people came to them. But Jesus knew what they all needed: “Come with Me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” (Mark 6:31b NIV)

There’s an open invitation to us from the Savior to do the same thing with God every day, every moment. Through His sacrifice for us, He made a way for us to – at any given time – ‘come away to a quiet place and find rest’.

David, who knew a lot about sheep, and probably saw similarities in us humans, penned the most famous Psalm of all. The first three verses are how a shepherd cares for his sheep. Sheep that are not calm cause themselves much trouble. They worry themselves and injure themselves.

Yes, we are like sheep then. But our Shepherd, our Messiah, does the same for us as David the shepherd did for his sheep: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He restores my soul.” (Psalm 23:1-3a NIV) Be quiet – you need His rest.

Least Expecteds

My oldest grandson has always been the most somber of the group. When he was little, and something would happen he would say: “Wasn’t expecting that.” Like much of life, right?

I think we wish there would be lots of warning, or at least a quick heads-up. Funny, us humans, even when we get a sneak preview, we’re still caught off guard. Jonah was told by the Lord to go to Nineveh, to talk to the people about sin and God. Jonah, who had a very low opinion of the Ninevites, said no way and ran the opposite direction.

Wasn’t long before he was on the road to Nineveh as God has a way of directing where he wants us. So, Jonah does what he’s told. And, great news, the people took his words to heart and changed their ways. Not the end of the story. You see, Jonah didn’t think they deserved a chance, so he threw a big pity party. “Just kill me now, LORD! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.” (Jonah 4:3 NLT)

That’s us. We pray for a loved one’s salvation. But when the drunk driver gets clean and finds Jesus, we think: ‘Why him? He hit my friend’s car and turned her life upside down.’ Pity party. Not waiting to see if perhaps this is what God will use to bring her to Christ as well.

You see, Jonah wasn’t expecting the results that God knew would happen. In his self-righteousness, he even thought he knew better than God. When the unexpected happened, he let his judgement dictate his response. The Bible and life are full of ‘least expecteds’.

I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t want advance notice of the car wreck, the diagnosis, the job termination. We would run the other way, do things our way, and make a mess. It’s the history of the human race. We take things into our hands, we pass judgement, we try to control.

But each of our ‘least expecteds’ are life lessons that help us, should we choose to trust God, with the next event.

In the middle of the book of Romans Paul tells us how to live at all times. The good ones, the bad ones, and the oh no, what’s happening ones. Two key verses: “Do not be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” (Romans 12:12 NIV)

Paul would have had much to share with Jonah. Jonah, like us, learns the hard way. But God’s ways are better than ours. His results always show the way – to life well lived, for the better of others, and straight to eternity. Joy, hope, patience, faith, prayer – serve the Lord. He’s got this.

Planner

Sometimes things don’t go according to MY plan. How about you? I’m a planner – details, times, etc. I’m thinking that may be the problem (grin).

That’s called control. Well, for me, it’s sanity. But others, and this world, don’t seem to think my plan is always best. Some interesting learning lately about trusting God in the midst of plans gone awry.

Recently a winter getaway for a week started off with a trip to urgent care for my hubby and a late start on our drive. At first I fretted. As I sat in the car wondering if we should just stay home, instead of my mind trying to figure out all the what-ifs, I decided I could be content in seeing how the day unfolded. “The unfolding of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.” (Psalm 119:130 NIV)

With a late start we headed out. About half-way there winter blue skies caught our attention. Looking up we noticed a perfect cross was formed by intersecting vapor trails and clouds. It stayed ahead of us in the sky for most of the next hour. Jesus leading the way.

I have no idea why it was important that we leave five hours later than we planned. But I do know this: God’s glory and our good are always His plan. “Surely Your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” (Psalm 23:6 NIV)

And every trial and triumph we live has purpose. Will we always see it? Will we understand? Not often. Life is lived in Christ by faith, not by sight.

From the vantage point of still getting to take a road trip, faith is easier. But the point in so many of life’s ups and downs is preparation. For there will be times when we can’t see any glory or good. Times that leave us wishing for the comfort of yesterday’s innocence.

It’s in those times all the ‘befores’ that have tried us, remind us that God never leaves us. A Bible full of life’s good days and bad years reminds us of His care in all things at all times. We’re each an unfolding story of God’s grace, mercy, and glory. We don’t write the story – the beginning is His breath of life, the in-between is His plan and purpose, and the end is really just the beginning for every Jesus follower.

“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things, at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2Corinthians 9:8 BSB)

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